The number of children apprehended at the Southwest border illegally entering the United States and traveling alone reached nearly 63,000 in the last nine months, according to new Department of Homeland Security statistics released Thursday.
But officials say they have seen a significant decrease in the number of unaccompanied children and single adults with at least one child entering through the Southwest border in the last month.
Since the beginning of the fiscal year, there has been an increase in lone children and adults with children making their way to the United States. But Border Patrol officials were taken aback and overwhelmed by a dramatic increase in May and June.
As of June 30, 57,000 unaccompanied children had been apprehended at the Southwest border since Oct. 1. At its peak, 16,330 single parents with at least one child and 10,628 unaccompanied children entered the U.S. in just the month of June.
Although the decrease in apprehensions dropped in July to 5,508 for unaccompanied children and 7,410 for single adults with children, the numbers are higher than in years past.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said the apprehensions for the first few days of August seemed to be in line with the downward trend.
“We have surged resources and put in place an aggressive campaign to counter the rise of illegal migration into the Rio Grande Valley. We have dramatically reduced the removal time for many unaccompanied adults from about 33 to four days,” Johnson said in a statement.
“We have built additional detention space for adults with children at Artesia, N.M., and another facility that was transitioned last week in Karnes City, Texas, and we are about to open an additional facility for the same purpose. We have increased the number of flights to repatriate people back to Central America,” Johnson said.
Under a 2008 law, young immigrants from all countries but Mexico and Canada are entitled to a hearing to determine whether they have a right to stay in the U.S. Most of the children who came in since October have been from Central America and entitled to the hearings, but immigration courts are so backed up that the youths often are released to relatives or sponsors for a year or more before the hearing.
The administration has vowed to speed up the hearings.
But immigrant rights groups and immigration attorneys have countered that quick removals would violate many migrants’ rights of due process. There have also been various allegations of abuses, inadequate access to attorneys, healthcare and food at new detention facilities, specifically in Artesia.